The Australian War Memorial in Canberra is staging an extensive range of displays and events to commemorate the centenary of World War I until 2018. More than 350,000 Australian men and women volunteered when the Great War broke out in August, 1914; they served as soldiers, sailors, airmen and nurses in foreign lands, from Gallipoli in Turkey to Palestine and France. Those who returned to Australia bore the mental and physical scars for the rest of their lives, with many shouldering the moral duty of remembering and honouring the more than 60,000 young men and women who never made it home.
The rich history of that cauldron of world conflict and the memories it evokes is maintained in the national shrine of the Australian War Memorial and a great deal of time, effort and funding has been dedicated to honouring Australia’s fallen during these centenary years.
A place of respect and international historical significance since its opening in 1941, the Memorial is a must-see for all Australians.
As a boy, I was fascinated by the detail and precise scale of the dioramas in the Memorial’s First World War galleries. Resurrected and restored, ten of the dioramas are being brought back to life in a program partly funded by a $1 million donation from the BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities fund.
The $32 million redevelopment of the First World War galleries, overseen by architects Johnson Pilton Walker and Cunningham Martyn Design, is the Memorial’s major contribution to the centenary.
The Memorial is custodian of one of the world’s great collections of World War I historical artefacts, and the centenary redevelopment offers the chance to re-display memorabilia that have not been seen for many years, along with newly acquired items, including a 4.5-inch Howitzer field gun and relics from the 2010 excavations at the more recently discovered mass grave site in Pheasant Wood at Fromelles, in France.
Opened in late February, 2015, the new galleries include two Sinai–Palestine campaign dioramas, Semakh and Desert Patrol, which have not been on display since the 1980s. Desert Patrol depicts a Light Horse patrol in the Sinai Desert and Semakh details the events of September 25, 1918, when the 11th Light Horse Regiment attacked the village of Semakh in Palestine.
The 11th Light Horse had the largest-known group of Indigenous Australians in one AIF unit. To commemorate the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, a list of Indigenous personnel who served in the First World War and some of their stories are incorporated in the new galleries.
Beyond the Memorial program, other projects to mark the 2014-2018 centenary include a Federal Government commitment of $6.9 million for the building of a Western Front Interpretive Centre at Villers-Bretonneux in France and the loan of the Menin Gate Lions to the city of Ypres in Belgium from mid-April to November 2017.
Originally standing on either side of the Menin Gate on the medieval wall around Ypres, the lions were given to Australia in 1935 by the city in recognition of the service of Australians in Belgium during World War I. Almost every Australian who served in and around Ypres would have marched between the lions at the Menin Gate.
As part of commemorations, the Memorial has launched Anzac Connections, a progressive digitisation and web development project of 150 collections of private records archived online for public access where visitors can read about the experiences of war, often in the soldier’s own words, written in letters home to loved ones, scribbled messages before battle, private diaries, commanders’ unit diaries, official histories, memoirs and postcards.
The Memorial has also launched programs to include the broader community in the commemoration of the centenary, including a project ending in 2018, in association with the ABC, to record schoolchildren from across Australia reciting more than 60,000 names of fallen soldiers listed on the Roll of Honour which can be heard throughout the First World War cloisters.
From August 4, 2014, until November 11, 2018, the names listed on the Roll of Honour panels are also being projected onto the exterior of the Memorial building every night.
Another program is drawing on the experiences of schoolchildren visiting the Memorial, capturing their reflections on the Australians who have sacrificed their lives in war. Their thoughts are reproduced in short messages on small wooden crosses which are being laid throughout the centenary on Australian war graves and memorials in countries including Turkey, France, Belgium, Malaysia, Singapore, Greece, South Africa and the Middle East.
In the week before Anzac Day, war archive images will be projected onto the front of the Memorial, and Dawn Service and Last Post Ceremonies on April 25 this year will link personal stories with key military history dates. Out of respect, the story of a young Turkish soldier will also be told and his image displayed.
Menin Gate Lion – Michael Dawes On flickr – Some Rights Reserved
All other photos by The Australian War Memorial – All Rights Reserved